Cutting Tracks and Calling Coyotes
By Troy Hoepker
The lone disturbance in the pristine virgin snow 20 feet below me told the story. A lone coyote had traveled the ice on the narrow frozen creek directly under the bridge I was checking, carving his footed imprint into the fresh powder from the overnight’s snowfall. I left the truck parked on the bridge as I half slid, half crept down the embankment of the road ditch and the creek bank for a closer look. The track revealed that a coyote had left the track since the snow had stopped falling. When I could flick away the small icy particles kicked up around the footprint without resistance of them being frozen to the snow, I knew I’d found a smoking hot coyote track!
The sun, barely rising, began to induce brilliant sparkles across the untouched snowy landscape as I parked the truck, gathered my gear, and set off westward following the track. At times I could look ahead and see the track clearly from a distance as it dotted the snow like crumbs leading to the cookie. It was an easy tracking job and as I went I curiously imagined where that coyote might be or how far ahead. Eventually the track emerged from the creek ice and then followed its banks for a hundred yards more before the track began to amble slightly southwest away from the creek. From there it took to a fence line and followed. That course of action was headed straight for a small wooded ditch below the pond my father had built in the early 80’s. It had been a daytime bedding area for coyotes for as long as I could remember and I couldn’t approach that ditch without the coyote detecting me. My only option was to stop short of it and call. If nothing came, then I would continue the tracking job.
With corn stubble on one side of the fence and barren pasture on the other, I had very little for cover. I settled down in a small amount of foxtail emerging through the snow in the fence line praying my snow camo would be worth its cost. I readied my bipod, and adjusted my scope for a long shot as I pulled a tiny red mouth call named the Tally Ho from my zippered pocket. I wailed softly at first, keeping it short and hoping the coyote was close and could easily hear it. I worried that calling a coyote back where it had already been would be a tall order but after my third series, I found that I was being watched. There standing boldly in the open was a coyote staring straight at me no less than 100 yards away to the southwest. How he got there without me seeing him amazes me to this day. Luckily, it only took a slight movement of my bipod to settle the crosshairs on the front of his chest. As I walked the fence line back, I felt satisfaction of dragging the coyote out over the very footprints in the snow that gave him away that morning.
Combining the arts of tracking and calling can be a highly successful way to kill coyotes. Some of my favorite coyote hunts over the years have been the mornings after an overnight snowfall when I can deploy the tactics of glassing and scanning for tracks. Iowa’s typical one-mile square sections are perfect for getting out early and finding tracks crossing the roads. As sunrise approaches, finding a fresh track often means that the coyote will be bedding down soon and not too far from the track he left. Once I’ve found a track, it pays to drive around the section slowly to make sure there are no tracks crossing another road leaving the section.
Once you’ve verified that the coyote is still somewhere within the section he entered, it’s time to develop a plan of attack. Usually that starts with the location of the cover within the section. Coyotes prefer to bed deeper into the fields away from roads and in many places you can see where the coyote is likely headed. Actually following the track itself isn’t needed in a situation like this. Instead, formulate a plan to approach the likely area where the coyote is bedded taking into consideration the wind and the coyotes possible visibility. You’ll want to take extreme caution to prevent your scent from drifting downwind towards the coyote’s likely destination. Secondly, avoid walking within clear sight of the cover you think the coyote might have bedded in.
It’s important to realize that you don’t have to see the area you are going to call to, you just need the coyote to hear you. The biggest mistake a hunter makes is getting too greedy and going too far. Find a suitable place to sit and call and let your sounds do the work. I’ve killed quite a few coyotes this way.
In some situations you’ll need to stay on the track. Oversized sections, areas that hold lots of cover and sections that hold large rivers of open water might be ones to stay on the track. Pull up short of any heavy cover areas and call as you track. Repeated efforts of calling may be required. Keep in mind that in heavy snow, coyote tracks leaving packed down trails and setting off on their own towards cover likely mean the coyote isn’t far. When back trailing a coyote, I always like to get wide of their track before I attempt to call them to me. Reason being, that a coyote trusts his nose and has already hunted where he’s been. In my experience coyotes are hesitant to go back where they’ve already traveled. Coyotes also have an uncanny sense of knowing when they are being followed.
Keep your eyes up following a track and stop to glass regularly. Scan the leeward side of structures like terraces, fences and hills. Coyotes love to bed in the sun on a cold morning and you may just spot the coyote bedded and spot him before he spots you. Tracking a coyote is adventurous and when you combine calling to the track job you up the fun and up your odds of success!